tvSmarter – Life in a TV Nation

Media Making Us Mean?

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You may have read about some of the new studies looking at how Social Rejection can lead to increased aggression.

According to the Science Daily article:

People who feel socially rejected are more likely to see others’ actions as hostile and are more likely to behave in hurtful ways toward people they have never even met, according to a new study.


A full report of the study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association. DeWall conducted four separate experiments with 190 participants, all college students.

In one of the experiments, the participants did not experience any actual social rejection, instead they experienced the expectation of social rejection:

In one experiment, 30 participants completed a personality test and were given bogus feedback about the results. A third of the participants, the excluded group, were told their personalities would mean they would probably end up alone later in life. The rest of the participants, the control group, were either told they would have many lasting and meaningful relationships or were given no feedback at all.

All participants were then instructed to read a personal essay supposedly written by another participant, whom they did not know. The essay was about an event in which the author’s actions could be perceived as either assertive or hostile and the participants rated their impression of the author’s actions. They were also told that the author was up for a research assistant position and were asked whether they thought the author would be a good candidate, based on what they had read.

Participants who were told they were going to have a lonely life perceived the author’s actions as significantly more hostile and gave a much more negative evaluation than those in the control groups.


Kate Harding of had a very interesting take on this:

Obviously, in real life, that expectation often develops as the result of experiencing direct rejection, but what about all the indirect forms of rejection? How does being told by advertisers and the media that you’re not white enough, not rich enough, not thin enough, not hetero enough, not masculine enough, not able-bodied enough, not healthy enough, not educated enough, etc. — not to mention rarely seeing positive public representations of people like you — affect your expectation of social acceptance, regardless of how well-liked you are by your peers? It seems to me that this study suggests being told you’re categorically unlikable for some arbitrary reason can do damage just as surely as not being liked. (One assumes that not everyone sorted into the “lonely” group actually had trouble forming and maintaining healthy relationships outside the lab.) And I mean, on the one hand, duh — being told you’re unlikable isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time. But on the other hand, it’s striking to see how merely hearing a negative prediction about your social future from one complete stranger can take an immediate toll. Given how many different types of people are repeatedly subjected to messages that they don’t measure up, how many products are sold by whipping up people’s fear of loneliness, it’s kind of a wonder we’re not all walking around punching strangers in the face.


Talk about a negative spiral. The more people have the expectation of social rejection, the more likely they themselves are to actually socially reject someone else. Increased social rejection leading to more, social rejection, and round and round it goes.

Another point is that with the ascendancy of TV, there is less and less social interaction. Before TV there was plenty of social rejection, but at least it was balanced by plenty of positive social interaction (i.e. friends, family and community).

It’s not surprising that so many people are now succumbing to anger and meanness.

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